I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m getting consistently weirded out by changes to WordPress’s UI and have feelings about that, but also use this blogging platform inconsistently enough that I don’t remember if I had the same feelings last year.
Last year I remarked, at length, on the fact that it had been a decade since I started this project. I’m not going to do that again, although I feel like the commitment to both the tracking project and the reflecting piece probably says more about me than I think it does. #neurodivergentreaders
This, though, was the first year that I seriously intended to hit 150 books. Granted, I didn’t tell goodreads or Storygraph that, but my secret goal was to top 150 a second year in a row because if I could do it this year, I could set it as my goal next year and it would feel like a push, but not a stretch.
Reader, after an exhausting December where I read the fewest books of any month this year, we are at 155.
In retrospect, that does make the job of picking my top books rather more difficult, but I’ll embrace that.
The thing is, I don’t (just) do this for the numbers. I’ve spent a while reflecting on why I read recently—other than that I can’t help myself and it’s a pretty necessary part of how I make myself human, which I also talked about last year—and the element that I keep coming back to is the way that I think and feel using books. Books are an integral part of how I think about the world, not just learning by reading nonfiction, but through fiction and especially speculative fiction as well. Alexis Shotwell (in Against Purity) quotes Samuel Delany (I think) saying:
We SF writers often say that science fiction prepares people to think about the real future—but that’s because it relates to the real present in the particular way it does; and that relation is neither one of prediction nor one of prophecy. It is one of dialogic, contestatory, agonistic creativity. In science fiction the future is only a writerly convention that allows the SF writer to indulge in a significant distortion of the present that sets up a rich and complex dialogue with the reader’s here and now.
Books are always talking about the world, suggesting other options, explaining their theory on how it works, prescribing and proscribing certain attitudes, everything. All books are an argument about the nature of reality and sitting with that argument, arguing back—which, incidentally, also explains my approach to reviews—and arguing on, and reading more is that dialogue with the world. It’s not surprising to me that most of the books on my top ten list are books that stuck with me because of how they served and continue to serve as texts with which I think and feel about the world.
Sometimes, to be fair, I read to take a break from thinking and that’s usually when rereading comes in. I don’t, as a rule, count rereads for coping, but I do count rereads for content. So, for example, when I reread C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces this year, it was to refresh myself on the content and use it in a class I was giving. When I relistened to the entire Dark Is Rising Sequence in the middle of December, that was mostly to have familiar stories while I knit and a little to get ready for the BBC audio drama version. Basically, if I’m reading it because I can’t face the prospect of reading something new, I don’t count it as read this year.
Anyway, let’s look at some of the stats. A quick note – Storygraph (which I really like and am a plus subscriber to) lets you do half and quarter stars, so this chart is going to look a bit different this year.
Okay, maybe not that different. The 3.5 mostly just eats into things that would otherwise have been fours and allows me to be slightly more persnickety. I believe most of the time, I bumped a book down rather than up…which, again, is probably a reflection on me rather than the books. But it does mean that I keep picking good ones.
Also, because I find it interesting, the average ratings per medium are:
3.9 for audiobooks,
3.4 for digital books,
3.9 for print.
I’m not sure this is telling me anything beyond that my dataset is too small for sweeping conclusions, but I’m open to the possibility. I might break book types down by genre as well and that might also be cool.
On the topic, here’s how format broke down this year. This, by the way, is a wild increase on the number of audiobooks I read in the year and it came almost entirely at the expense of digital books.
Last year was 67 digital and 21 audio, while this year was 43 for each. A significant amount of that change was because I had a commute this year and often spent the 30 minute walk home listening to a book. Also, I’ve been slowly increasing my audiobook reading speed (I think I started doing that last year, but really got into it this year) and, funnily enough, you go through more books at 1.75 speed than you do at normal speed. (For those of you who are suddenly realizing that the reason I speak so fast is because 1.75x is a speed that is comfortable for me to take in information and finding that revelatory, you’re welcome.)
This one is interesting. As usual, more than half of the books I read this year were published in the last 2 years, although fewer than previously.
Last year, more than 3/4 of my books were published in the last four years. This year, just slightly over 2/3. For some reason, I read more older books this year and way more stuff from the 20th century than I had last year: 15% of my books instead of 5%. And apparently that would be the fault of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin as I read a significant number of books by them this year. Also influenced by my “must reread Jewish feminist stuff”, a field in which I am still desperately catching up. (I’m apparently trying to finish books before I teach them, which is questionable pedagogic practice. I’m also looking forward to discovering how many of my students read this post when I get back to class and they call me on it.)
In terms of genre, not that much different from last year. Memoir is back, a few more short stories crept in and YA is climbing relative to novella-ette. Also I read poetry. It also somehow feels like I read more YA than I do and that’s either because I’m not as good at tagging as I think I am or because it’s a genre that is so hit or miss with me that it stands out more. Or both.
Realistically, this next section also suffers from erratic tagging because some things are tagged epic and fantasy, e.g., and so it’s not a percentage record, merely a record of how many books fell into that category
Well, I mean, I am consistent from year to year. Look at who’s topping the charts again. In new news, I’ve read nearly 40 romance novels this year, which is a notable increase and also tracks as I’ve starting branching out in the genre. Cynic that I am, it probably also explains the lower star rating for digital books since I mostly read romance in e-format. Not that romance novels don’t frequently get high ratings from me, but that in branching out and trying new authors, and without the network of recommenders who I know like what I like…and with my ongoing intolerance for obnoxious behavior on the parts of the heroes (except when I allow otherwise, naturally), it doesn’t entirely surprise me to find an effect.
Do I have the data to verify this? I mean, yes. Wait a minute. Okay, average romance is rated 3.51 so, you know, theory not entirely dismantled.
Also, I definitely read more things I consider to be theologically interesting than appear on this chart. Some of them are probably woven into Judaism and the fact that I don’t tag those as theology…well, there’s a conversation to be had about what precisely theology IS in Judaism (and that’s why I’m teaching this class).
Right, demography. I will say that for all that it’s not a large chart, it’s been one of the most formative aspects of my reading choices and I’ve discovered so many new amazing stories and read in genres I would never have otherwise because of this practice – first of tracking who I read and second of making sure that 1/3 of the books I read are by authors of color. And I’m so grateful to the indie bloggers and people on Twitter (who I now need to find again and hope are on Mastodon) and list-makers who advocate for these books.
Anyway, the ongoing growth in authors who are either nonbinary or genderqueer* is still really cool to see and, also, that drop from books to author means usually means I read a LOT of books by the same author in that category.
Once again, authors of color are at 35%, which is nice, and this time 2/5 of the books I’ve read were by authors of color, which means we’re back to more individual authors, but fewer repeats. I’m actually going to do a quick test and see how this goes. How many of this year’s authors were authors who I had read books by previously?
Okay, so 18 authors of color were authors who I had read books by before. And 33 of of the white authors were authors I’ve read before. Honestly, that more or less works out. So, no real distinction. Although I did learn that I’ve read 28 books by Lois McMaster Bujold over the course of my life, which feels like a pretty big amount.
Anyway, it’s 10:51 on my clock and we have the awards list to get to. Top ten books in no particular order, although I may get silly and give them titles like “Most likely to make you scream incoherently, but in a good way”.
…you know, come to think of it:
- Most Likely to Make You Scream Incoherently, but in a Good Way
Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall. So, first of all, this is the second book in a romance novel series that is shamelessly ripping off the Great British Bake Off and it’s genius, but what Hall does here is not just a cute love story (although also that) but an exploration of familiar romcom tropes that asks “yes, but what if this happens to real people” and that’s even leaving aside how he handles religious abstinence and it’s all just so good and then there’s the laser tag and the fish jokes and just. It deliberately doesn’t transcend its genre, but it sure hits the apex.
- Most Likely to Make You Scream Incoherently, but with RAGE this time
Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang. This book is particularly resonant if you have a relationship with academia, but the way that Kuang reifies the effects of colonialism through an inherently fascinating linguistic magic system is just brilliant, She’s not particularly kind to her characters and thus, perforce, to her readers, but the story she tells is all the better for its willingness to be hard.
- Best Costume and Design
Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney. Wait, hear me out. This book is extravagant in a way that only Cooney can be. Everything is exuberant and a lot and if you secretly love the narrative voice of the Victorian novel and also necromancy, might I recommend this piece of magic?
- Most Eloquent in its Spareness
The Unbalancing by R. B. Lemberg. I raved about how Jewish this book is, not merely in scene-setting, but in its attitude towards diaspora and identity, but on top of that it’s an absolutely lovely story about what we do when we’re at a crossroads and heroism versus helping and it’s perfect and Lemberg’s work is always stunning and I can’t wait to read their upcoming book of poetry.
- Best Doorstopper
The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones by Ken Liu. This is actually two, because the only reason they were separated is that you can’t sell a 2,000 page hardcover. If you look at the reading chart on the top of the page and see the massive jump in pages relative to books in May and October, that was because of these guys. But this entire series (of which these are the final two) is everything I want out of fantasy based in history. It’s like Neal Stephenson with someone around to do the endings. Also there are multiple wars going on and Liu manages to convince you for like 200 pages that the most important thing that could happen is someone inventing the technologically appropriate version of the Instant Pot and he’s RIGHT.
- Best Book to Inspire Goodness
Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks…but with Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer as a very strong contender. hooks is incredible when she talks about teaching and what it is to be in the classroom, to allow one’s body and identity into the room and to give her students the space to do the same. Her pedagogy is imbricated with her Blackness and she talks about both in a way that makes me excited to think of a world with teachers who have learned from her.
- Most Niche Content that Everyone Should Enjoy
Semicolon by Cecelia Watts. Yes, it’s a history of the semicolon. Yes, it’s super interesting even if you’re not a complete pedant. (Who, me?) and especially if you are. There’s so much cool history there and then the last chapter is just a mic drop.
- Most Nourishing
Koshersoul by Michael Twitty. I want to cook everything in this book and then read it again and laugh all over at the Tashlich section. Twitty’s Jewish journey is told with such a mix of joy and pain and strength and exuberance that it’s impossible not to find his narrative voice as sweet as the food his invites you to make.
- Best Book that Walked Straight Out of My Nightmares
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. I read a surprising amount of horror this year, for someone who insisted for years that she doesn’t read it and nothing was as emotionally terrifying as Chan’s gentle parenting panopticon. It was so good. It was so scary. It was the intersection of the humanity of robots and the horrors of parenting and I literally could not put it down to go to bed because I didn’t dare sleep without finishing it.
- Best Book That I Knew Would Be Good
Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher. I love Kingfisher, she’s on this list every year and this year is no different. She has a knack for fairy tale – how the rules work and how they bend, but do not break when you make them personal and real and follow the conventions of modern fiction. Her worlds are not so much gruesome as unflinching and her protagonists are kind down to their bones in a way that is not always nice. She’s so good and I knew I would love this and I did.
So…I think if you count the bit where I shoved two extra books, that was twelve. It’s 11:30 and I had to physically stop myself from finishing a book earlier tonight because I have like 5% of it left, but then I would have to regenerate ALL the charts and under NO circumstances is that happening. So I’ll get a start on next year and thank you for 11 years of this madness!
*For those curious, I go by what the author uses on their website/wikipedia page. For those wondering about the difference, genderqueer is a term people use when their gender identity challenges gender binary. Non-binary is a subset of that category and is more specific for people who don’t fit in the gender binary at all.